Friday’s Group 1 features at Royal Ascot are coming up intensely competitive affairs worthy of the grade. Both shine the spotlight on three-year-old divisions, the Commonwealth Cup (G1) for sophomore sprinters preceding the Coronation (G1) for the filly milers.
American interest in the Commonwealth Cup comes courtesy of Irish expat Gidu, who has yet to finish worse than second in five career starts for Todd Pletcher. A €410,000 Arqana August yearling purchase by Zayat Stables, the son of Frankel comes off back-to-back stakes scores in the Columbia at Tampa Bay Downs and the Paradise Creek at Belmont Park. The Gidu is being overlooked in the antepost wagering, his odds varying from 20-1 to 33-1 depending on the bookmaker.
Heading the market are Juddmonte homebred Equilateral and Aidan O’Brien’s Sioux Nation. Equilateral, by sprint star Equiano and out of a half-sister to Cityscape and Bated Breath, makes his stakes debut off an eight-length stunner in his Doncaster reappearance. The John Gosden trainee is facing a substantial class hike, but after his front-running coup under top weight of 131 pounds, he’s virtually crying out for it.
Sioux Nation is already a winner at Royal Ascot, in last summer’s Norfolk (G2), and the Scat Daddy colt promptly earned a top-level laurel in the Phoenix (G1) at the Curragh. If he lacks the panache of 2017 Commonwealth Cup hero Caravaggio, representing the same sire and connections, Sioux Nation captured the same prep, the May 20 Lacken (G3) at Naas over Fleet Review and Speak in Colours.
Sands of Mali, last year’s Gimcrack (G2) hero who tired to ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), is two-for-two back sprinting this campaign. After taking the April 13 Prix Sigy (G3) at Chantilly, the Richard Fahey pupil just staved off Invincible Army in the May 26 Sandy Lane (G2) at Haydock. Finishing up the track were two juvenile stars yet to find themselves at three, Queen Mary (G2) vixen Heartache and Prix Morny (G1) scorer Unfortunately. O’Brien’s Actress, fifth in the Sandy Lane, moved forward to beat older distaffers in the June 8 Ballyogan (G3). The Sandy Lane form also looks solid since Invincible Army had previously been convincing in Ascot’s stepping stone, the May 2 Pavilion (G3), defeating Eqtidaar and Enjazaat.
Although the field will be pruned by Wednesday’s final declaration stage, the early list of 28 potential runners portends a large group lining up on Friday.
The Coronation, as the fillies’ counterpart to Tuesday’s St James’s Palace (G1), is likewise held over the round mile course. By pitting 1000 Guineas (G1) shocker Billesdon Brook against Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) queen Alpha Centauri and the French 1000 Guineas (G1) upsetter Teppal, the contest serves as a summit meeting. But with second-off-the-bench Clemmie bound to improve for O’Brien, the arguably unlucky Coeur de Beaute spoiling for revenge, and hotshot maiden winner Veracious ready to resume, the Coronation has no shortage of angles.
Richard Hannon’s Billesdon Brook sprang a 66-1 surprise at Newmarket and had to be supplemented here, but she had won last August’s Prestige (G3) at Goodwood, and her classic form has been flattered. Guineas runner-up Laurens has gone on to land the Prix Saint-Alary (G1) and French Oaks (G1); third-placer Happily filled the same spot in the Irish equivalent and finished fourth in the French Oaks; and fourth-placer Wild Illusion was second in the Oaks (G1) at Epsom.
Clemmie, long the antepost favorite, had to miss the Guineas with a setback. O’Brien got her ready for a day out in the Irish 1000, but she was clearly in need of the tightener when a sympathetically handled ninth. Last year’s European champion juvenile filly is entitled to come in leaps and bounds, and antepost bettors have kept the faith with the full sister to Churchill.
Alpha Centauri, if not quite as big a longshot at the Curragh, was still a 12-1 overlay in her first opportunity on good ground since her near-miss in last summer’s Albany (G3). The Jessica Harrington filly had thrown in a couple of subpar runs on rain-softened going, but rebounded in style, and hopes that similar conditions prevail here.
While Alpha Centauri had smart juvenile form to recommend her, Teppal was tougher to decipher at ParisLongchamp. Making her stakes debut for David Simcock in the French classic, she had won both starts at Lingfield and Kempton, and remained perfect in a cavalry charge. Her post 3 was beneficial, unlike Coeur de Beaute, the Prix Imprudence (G3) winner who had to rally from post 14. A rematch with a different draw could go the other way. Marco Botti’s Capla Temptress, the Natalma (G1) heroine and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) seventh, was a close fourth from post 2 in her return.
Veracious has not raced since her terrific Newmarket maiden win last October over Winter Lightning, Thunder Snow’s half-sister who went on to a productive Dubai Carnival. Prominent in the antepost market for Newmarket herself, Veracious was another ruled out but now seeking belated compensation. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute, the Cheveley Park homebred is a daughter of Frankel and Infallible, the runner-up in the 2008 Coronation. That also makes her a half-sister to Mutakayyef, two-time winner of Ascot’s Summer Mile (G2) and runner-up in last year’s Queen Anne (G1) at the Royal meeting.
The fields for the two supporting Group stakes will crystallize as of Wednesday’s final declarations but we can glimpse basic outlines.
O’Brien has the top two contenders in the six-furlong Albany (G3) for juvenile fillies. Fairyland upstaged the boys in the Marble Hill, and royally bred Just Wonderful, a Dansili great-granddaughter of Urban Sea, impressed in her unveiling. Although both unbeaten are cross-entered to Wednesday’s Queen Mary (G2), the market vibe points to Friday. Wesley Ward, looking for his first Albany trophy, relies on Keeneland debut victress Stillwater Cove.
Mark Johnston’s battle-tested Mildenberger heads the King Edward VII (G2), the step up to 1 1/2 miles likely to suit the Dante (G2) runner-up. Acomb (G3) scorer Wells Farhh Go, a lackluster sixth in his Dante comeback, stands to give a better account of himself. O’Brien has the usual posse in the mix, notably Derby (G1) also-rans Delano Roosevelt, The Pentagon, and Kew Gardens.
We’ll post a handicapping feature after the Friday card is finalized.